Luke 20:27-38 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man[a] shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
What do Zsa Zsa Gabor, Elizabeth Taylor, Martha Rae, and Lana Turner have in common? They have all been married and divorced multiple times. What do Roberto Alomar, Ricky Henderson, Goose Gossage, Gaylord Perry and Hoyt Wilhelm have in common? They are all in the Hall of Fame and they played for multiple teams. In the Hall of Fame, you have to declare what team you want to be known for as you are inducted so that they can make the bust for the display with the correct Jersey and cap. It’s not as simple as it will be for Peyton Mining when he is inducted playing for two teams, we are talking about 7, 8 or 9 different teams. Which team do they choose?
It is the same kind of question that the Sadducees asked Jesus. If a woman loses 7 husbands when she dies who will be her husband in heaven? This is such a loaded question; it is to set Jesus up to fail. We have to break this passage down a little bit into who are the players and what does it mean in the context for Jesus’ time?
Sadducees, they are clergy folk in the Jewish church. They would be considered pretty fundamental. God’s authority is found in the scriptures in which we believe also. But they do not read the entire Old Testament and use it to interpret God’s will. They only use the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. This is known as the Pentateuch which means five books or five scrolls. This is different from the Torah which means written and oral law.
The rule that the Sadducees are referring to is called a Levirate law, found in the book of Leviticus. The law says that if a man and woman get married and they do not have any sons, when the man dies widow is supposed to marry his brother. So, let’s look at the life of a widow.
When a woman became a widow there were no social security, no life insurance, no jobs (women didn’t work outside the home if they had been married), no financial means to take care of themselves. They would become destitute, unprotected and marginalized in society. They could not own property so they would be homeless as well. They might have daughters, and then they too would be thrown out in the street. That is why there was a Levirate law so that the widow, the poor and the orphan would be protected from the cruelty of the world.
To us it seems so bizarre, yet it was one of the most humane practices of the day. The law was set up to protect the widow by requiring marriage to a brother. Women lived longer than men just like today’s life expectancies. Back to our Sadducees.
A woman’s husband dies and so the next eldest brother marries her. He dies and the line is repeated over and over seven times. “In the resurrection whose wife will she be?” is the question that they pose to Jesus. In case you are wondering, in Jesus day they also practiced polygamy and so the concern is not whose husband but whose wife? That seems crazy, but the really crazy thing is that Sadducees according to Luke do not even believe in the resurrection. This is nothing but a trap. Now according to the gospel of Mark 12:24 “Jesus said to them, ‘Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?’”
The gospel writer Luke uses a softer tone and seems to really want to draw the Sadducees in. Jesus talks about those who are in the age of the resurrection are nether married or given in marriage. He refers to them instead as angels, children of God and children of the resurrection. Then he tries to explain it in their way of understanding by referring to the story of Moses and the burning Bush. When Moses asks who is speaking to him on the side of the mountain out of the burning bush God says, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. These three guys are referred to in present tense, not past tense. In other words, they are living in the resurrected life or what we like to call heaven.
What do angels and children of God and children of the resurrection look like? We know that the Sadducees left and never questioned Jesus again. We do not know if they were angry or astounded? Did they know exactly who Jesus was talking about and we have lost that over the years? Or was the answer so ambiguous that they left perplexed like maybe we are today.
The resurrection takes us out of this realm and into a place that only our imaginations can be, and that is not very settling. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” That takes some imagination to think that we might be changed in the blinking of an eye as the trumpet sounds. It leads us to the passage from the NT today.
The passage from 2 Thessalonians is a response to his first letter. Somehow people interpreted his first letter that the Second Coming has already occurred in some remote place and when Jesus showed up, he would take them all with him. So they quit their jobs and sold their homes and property and just hung out waiting for the Messiah to come…
Finite rules or divine rules?
Resurrection seems impossible in a dying world
Believers gateway to hope
Do we dare speak of the resurrection or the kingdom by addressing social woes like a lack of justice or inequality?
What is the lens in which we name God’s intervening work in today’s world affairs?
Eternal life is more, much more than an extension of our present life. If we know that our redeemer lives, that’s good news. We have the hope that whenever we get angry or hurt, sick or grieved, feel empty or powerless there is more. More than we can ever imagine in the best of times. More love to fill our hearts. More beauty to explore. “For we will be like angels, children of God, children of the resurrection.” We are children of the living God! Amen.